A crucial week domestically and on the continent beckons for Real Madrid and Barcelona, who face each other on Saturday at Camp Nou after playing Italian giants Juventus and AC Milan, respectively, in the Champions League.
Atlético Madrid travels to Austria Wien (Tuesday, 8.45pm on Canal+ Liga de Campeones), the weakest team in the tournament on the basis of the Uefa coefficient, and Real Sociedad, which has yet to pick up a point in Europe, faces Manchester United at Old Trafford (Wednesday, 8.45pm on Canal+ Liga de Campeones). Both Barcelona and Atlético dropped points at the weekend, allowing Real to close the gap at the top of the Liga table. La Real, meanwhile, desperately needs a good result in the Champions League to kick-start its campaign, and may find Old Trafford in more generous mood than usual: United once again failed to prevent a visiting side, on this occasion Southampton, from helping itself to a point at the weekend and the question marks over David Moyes' ability to guide a club of such size are growing larger by the week, while Real Sociedad's decent 1-2 win over Valencia in Mestalla won't have done the players' confidence any harm.
We have to repeat the performance from last season and try not to leave them any spaces"
Confidence is hardly a problem at Real Madrid either, and Carlo Ancelotti and his staff know a thing or two about Juventus. Fiorentina, with Joaquín on the scoresheet, beat the Old Lady 4-2 at the weekend and Antonio Conte's side will not be treated gently at the Bernabéu if it commits the same defensive errors it did in surrendering a two-goal lead.
However, when you possess players such as the peerless Andrea Pirlo, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and a strike force including Carlos Tévez and Fernando Llorente, Real is unlikely to have it all its own way.
Milan, which has not started the season as it would have liked, caused problems for Barcelona last season at home, but at Camp Nou Gerardo Martino's side are a different prospect. Barcelona overturned a 2-0 deficit in the last 16 in 2012-13, running out 4-2 aggregate winners. Milan knows that it will be up against it to stand a chance of topping the group if it doesn't pick up points in the San Siro on Tuesday (8.45pm on TVE1): "We have to repeat the performance from last season, try to be very aggressive and try not to leave them any spaces," said Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri. "Barcelona have a lot of options up front, Neymar likes to make deep runs, as well as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Fàbregas. Barcelona have improved with Neymar, he is one of the best in the world and he is still young. He has improved the overall quality up front, you can see that."
The return to action of Kaká at the weekend will have a psychological effect on the team - "His presence alone helps the technical level and the confidence of the others," noted Allegri - even if the Barcelona game has come a little early for him to play a huge role on the field.
Likewise Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid, who returned to full training on Monday after breaking a bone in his foot in August. Whether he will be fit for the visit of Juventus is open to question, but his return to the side will be a welcome sight next Saturday at Camp Nou.
Raphaël Varane should be available after recovering from a swollen knee picked up on duty with France, as should teammate Karim Benzema, who missed the Málaga match last weekend after sustaining a knock with Les Bleus.
With Gareth Bale fully operational as well, Ancelotti has almost his entire complement of players to choose from for the first time this season — very good timing when taking on the Italian champion and Barça in the space of five days.